Loretta Rush wins praise, makes history as new chief justice

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Loretta Rush had dinner with friends awhile back in her hometown of Lafayette, but the upcoming chief justice selection didn’t come up. Robert Reiling recalls a nice time talking about family.

“I’m sure in Indianapolis she’s Chief Justice Rush,” Reiling said. “In Lafayette, she’s Loretta to everyone.”

Rush-2-15col.jpg Justice Loretta Rush shakes hands with Brent Dickson, chief justice and chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission, upon arriving for her interview Aug. 6. The JNC selected Rush to succeed Dickson, making her Indiana’s first female chief justice. (IL Photo/ Eric Learned)

So it wasn’t too unusual that friends and members of the local bar had festooned Rush’s home with red, white and blue balloons when she arrived the evening of Aug. 6 after being named Indiana’s first female chief justice. “We just sat and enjoyed each other,” Rush said.

Being the first female chief justice is a distinction she hopes one day might not be remarkable, she said after her selection by the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission.

“It was thrilling,” Rush said of her selection. “I have such respect for the court as an institution.”

For folks back in Lafayette, the choice came as no surprise. They said Rush’s personality and professionalism make her a natural choice.

“I’m sure she made a good impression,” said Reiling, a partner in Reiling Teder & Schrier LLC. He speaks from experience, having been involved in hiring Rush for her first legal job in 1982 at the firm where current Chief Justice Brent Dickson practiced at the time.

Reiling recalled that as a young lawyer, Rush quickly established herself and earned the respect of colleagues and judges for her skills in the courtroom. “As lawyers, sometimes you get put on the spot, and she was always able to respond effectively.

“She’s a very critical thinker, and she’s never been indecisive about things, and I think that’s one of the strengths she will bring to the position.”

William Emerick, an attorney at Stuart & Branigin LLP in Lafayette, has known Rush more than 25 years. “We knew she had the background, training, experience and good judgment to fill the shoes of Chief Justice Dickson,” he said.

“We were all excited for her when she got appointed to the Supreme Court and we’re even more excited that she’s been appointed chief justice,” said Emerick, who is also vice president of the Tippecanoe County Bar Association.

“She was always a great advocate for her clients and was always very easy to work with” as an attorney, he said, recalling cases he tried against her. As a judge, Emerick believes Rush’s sincere interest in solving problems is clear.

“I think it’s her genuineness that truly comes across. She’s just a real person,” he said.

Rush said it sunk in for her that she would be the next chief when the justices gathered the morning after her selection for their weekly Thursday conference. She realized she’d soon be sitting where Dickson sits. Dickson plans to resign as chief but remain on the court, but no official date had been set at IL deadline.

Convincing the commission

By virtue of reverse tenure on the court, Rush was the first candidate the commission interviewed, and she promptly talked about the need for a chief justice to lead by example as “the face of the court.”

The chief justice needs to “sort of be the role model and the pillar of collegiality and civility,” she said, and trial courts and attorneys around the state “look to the Supreme Court and particularly the chief for the standard.”

She said, “It’s important that we look at the chief as sort of a chairman of the board,” though she would make sure in that role to surround herself with a strong managerial team. “The chief needs to be willing to listen and to delegate responsibilities.”

Rush told the commission members the court could make improvements by looking at best practices nationally and doing more to improve and expedite the handling of civil dockets, which she said have increasingly languished, not just in Indiana but nationwide. Meanwhile, she said courts will continue to be challenged by fiscal restraints.

The aspect of serving as chief that Rush said she would find most satisfying would be the people she works with, including the trial courts and bar. She said that when she ran for the bench in Tippecanoe County, she spent time getting to know the bench and bar.

“I closed my practice down three months early to travel the state and find out what was working,” she said.

Commission member John Ulmer asked Rush about maintaining a home-life balance when raising young children – a question that wasn’t asked of male justices. “I just really became a really good time manager,” she said. The balance is made easier because of her family, she explained. “They believe in the mission of what we do.”

The verdict

Deliberating behind closed doors, the commission took about an hour to choose Rush.

“I think there was a leaning toward her, but there also were some leanings toward some others,” said non-attorney commission member Jean Northenor of Warsaw. “It took some time to talk it through.”

But those talks didn’t need to involve the opinion of Dickson, who said after Rush’s selection, “I had colleagues that made that decision for me.”

“I think her qualifications were overwhelming,” Northenor said of Rush. “It just seemed to me that everyone on the commission, all six of us, felt very strongly about her qualifications and her demeanor.

“She has a presence about her that when she walked in that room, you know she’s there. Personally, I thought that was important for a chief justice, and that’s not taking anything away from any of the others,” she said. “We could have chosen any one of those four and it wouldn’t have been a mistake. She just came out on top.”

Northenor, who with Ulmer were the only commission members remaining from the group that chose Rush as a justice in 2012, said she believes Rush will continue what she called a magnificent tenure by Dickson.

“When I left, I felt good about the decision,” Northenor said. “The way (the justices) all get along so wonderfully I’m sure will continue under her leadership.”

The choice was praised by Gov. Mike Pence, Attorney General Greg Zoeller and former Justice Frank Sullivan, Rush’s predecessor on the court, among others. Pence noted the history-making nature of the decision and said, “With her extensive legal experience, proven character and commitment to public service, I am confident that Chief Justice Rush will serve our judiciary and our state with distinction.”

Rush told the commission Dickson had set a standard for inclusiveness during his time as chief, one she hopes to foster. “There’s more institutional integrity when you have consensus.”

That was a theme each of the justices stressed during their interviews before the commission, with several noting the court’s reputation of collegiality cultivated under Dickson and before him, Chief Justice Randall Shepard, whose 27-year tenure is the longest in Indiana history.

What’s ahead

Rush said after her selection that she would be taking some time to better learn the job before laying out some of her visions for the future. She’ll also look to what she called a strong group of judicial leaders around the state to help, and to the leadership and institutional knowledge of Dickson and longtime justice Robert Rucker for guidance.

“A strategic plan will be developed,” she said, “with a lot of input. But it will take time.”

Shepard, now a visiting professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said Rush has “proven in short order a very able contributor in the court’s casework,” and as important, she’s shown the leadership capabilities to carry out functions of the court that the public and even sometimes lawyers don’t see, such as guiding improvements in trial court operations.

“She was, as a trial court judge, very committed to improvements in the trial court processes and to upgrading educational opportunities and collaborating,” Shepard said. “I think there’s room for great optimism about her leadership in this growing part of the Supreme Court’s work.”

Another aspect of the job Shepard said can be tricky is serving as first among equals.

“One of the chief’s roles is to build the right atmosphere in which this group of very independent-minded five members can work effectively with each other,” he said. “We notice it immediately when they aren’t.

“A very positive feature of the last decade or two has been the high level of respect and working relationships” on the court, Shepard said.

“There’s every bit of reason to be confident that’s something she’ll build on,” he said. “It’s easy to overlook, but it makes a tremendous difference.

What the other justices said

Mark Massa


In his interview with the Judicial Nominating Commission, Justice Mark Massa said he believes humility is the most important attribute for a chief justice, and that’s a trait he looked for as counsel to former Gov. Mitch Daniels in vetting appointees for judges from small claims courts to the Court of Appeals.

“I think judges with humility are less likely to overreach,” Massa said, which may provoke attacks and threats on judicial independence.

“I would say the next chief justice will have enormous shoes to fill,” he said, praising Brent Dickson’s tenure as well as that of former Chief Justice Randall Shepard, for whom he served as a law clerk.

Massa said Dickson is more inclusive during conferences with the justices than was Shepard. “That’s been a worthy model and certainly one I would emulate.”

“Over the last 30 years not only has this court significantly increased the quality of work, decision making and coherence of its jurisprudence,” Massa said, justices “also spent a considerable amount of time and energy on things that make the court system work better.”

Massa also said chief justice is a diplomatic and ceremonial position that requires “collaboration with and sometimes persuasion of the other branches of government.”

Acknowledging that his judicial philosophy skews conservative, Massa referred to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers who designed a system that ensured no one had too much power.

“I believe in the separation of powers the way I believe in gravity.”

Steven David


Justice Steven David mixed a bit of self-deprecating humor with an appeal to the JNC that he would bring passion and vision to the job if selected chief.

As he concluded answering a question about the qualities a chief needs, he got a laugh when he looked across the table at Dickson and said, “The chief knows I could go on and on.”

“What you are doing is selecting more than just a chief justice,” he told the commission. “I think you are selecting someone to serve as the chief trustee for justice in Indiana, and that’s significant.”

David said the role calls for someone who possesses the ability to bring people together, leadership skills, a good body of work to refer to, and someone who is trustworthy. “I think the person has to have patience, and they also have to have tenacity.”

At the same time, he acknowledged the justices were looking forward to the conclusion of the succession process that had been tough. “They’re my brothers and my sister,” he said.

Asked about possible improvements he would make as chief, David said he would do a better job of listening to trial courts and lawyers, taking their input on how to provide a more effective and efficient court system. He said the court is on that path, looking at reforms and new ideas.

“I will do my best to make sure the atmosphere is one of openness.”

Robert Rucker

Rucker-8-1col.jpg Rucker

The final justice to appear before the commission, Robert Rucker said three qualities are needed in a chief justice – the ability to be a collaborator, a consensus-builder and a good communicator.

He commended Dickson for sharing responsibilities that are given by statute to the chief justice. “We have buy-in, and we have acceptance for those things,” Rucker said. “This is an institution, it’s not a one-man show, and I would treat it that way.”

Rucker said it’s also important the chief be able to communicate the mission of the court and inspire respect and confidence for the bench. “The chief justice is the public face of this third branch of government.”

He said part of Dickson’s legacy is likely to be insistence on civility in the courtroom and access to justice for unrepresented litigants. Rucker told the commission that if selected chief, he would pursue a legacy of ensuring non-English speakers and those of limited proficiency as well as those who are deaf or cannot be heard, have access to justice and qualified interpreters.

Rucker also said his life story helps him maintain a common touch. His father worked in the steel mills and factories of Lake County while his mother worked at home raising a family. Rucker went to public schools and served his country in Vietnam before he pursued a legal career.

“Nobody’s going to accuse Bob Rucker of living in an ivory tower,” he said. “I think I’ve got a life that allows me to cross paths with lots of different people and lots of different circumstances.”


  • Repulsive
    I find the media ignoring Rush's participation in Brewington v State to be repulsive. Loretta Rush sat on the Juvenile Justice Improvement committee with one of the victims of the case, while she was writing the opinion for the case. If this was a situation where a judge served on a board of directors of a bank with a victim or litigant in a criminal or civil trial, no one would find it proper for the judge to preside over the case; especially if the judge and the victim served on the board together for at least 6 years. This doesn't even take into account how Justice Rush claimed Brewington had a history of violence toward Judge Humphrey, her fellow committee member of 6+ years. There is no record or mention of violence in the trial record or at the appellate level; only in Rush's opinion. Looking at the situation objectively, how could an individual, with no criminal record, have a "history" of violence against a judge without any arrests or without anyone attempting to obtain a restraining order? If someone committed just one act of violence against a judge it would most likely be a federal case but Brewington was never arrest for violence because Dearborn County Sheriff Michael Kreinhop testified that no violence ever occurred. Worst of all Justice Rush wrote that a defendant may waive their rights to constitutional protections that prohibit unconstitutional prosecutions by inviting the error, by assuming any non-objection to the unconstitutional prosecution was trial strategy and not ineffective assistance of counsel. Rush went through the record of the case and picked out partial statements she believed to be threats and used them to support her written decision. On the surface this appears to be appropriate except if the Supreme Court is the finder of what is considered threatening then, by default, the defendant was deprived his 6th amendment right to know which of his actions brought forth the charges against him. The United States court system doesn’t allow a prosecutor to admit tens or hundreds of thousands of word into a court record so the high courts can establish the existence of any possible threats. If this were true, a prosecutor could indict Stephen King, admit all of his horror novels, and allow a higher court to pour through hundreds of thousands of pages in search of a few statements that the court deems to be threatening and then justify the “threatening” nature of the statements by claiming Stephen King was dangerous because he kept writing about horrific situations; all the while barring King from building a defense against the alleged threats because the threats were not defined until after trial. This is exactly what happened in Brewington; where even the appellate court did not establish Brewington’s statements were threats to safety but rather ruled Brewington’s statements, while possibly true, frightened the alleged “victims,” thus satisfying the Appellate Court’s bar for intimidating statements. This fails to take the common sense factor into account that Brewington was convicted of effectively terrorizing the alleged victims for as long as 3.5 years yet no one attempted to obtain a restraining order and Brewington was never held in contempt of court in his divorce proceedings. If Brewington’s threats were clear and worthy of prosecution then the threats were definitely grounds for seeking protective orders. As for the threat of arson, the word does not appear in the grand jury transcripts nor the trial record and Humphrey never expressed any fear nor did he mention that he believed Brewington’s statement about being a pyromaniac was directed toward Humphrey and his family. I have no idea why Loretta Rush receives a free pass on this but the citizens of Indiana should be wary of their constitutional rights before the gavel of the newly appointed Chief Justice, Loretta H. Rush.

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    1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

    2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

    3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

    4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

    5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.